TOPICS > Politics

Shields and Brooks on high cost of U.S. spying, ACA’s ongoing woes

November 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's top political news including Virginia's gubernatorial race and the state's political future, the cost of NSA surveillance revelations and the deepening hole that health care reform is digging for itself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome to the program.

So, Mark, we have just heard all about the Virginia race, big names coming in for both candidates here at the end. What are the lessons we should take away after hearing this report from Kwame and our producer Terence Burlij?

MARK SHIELDS: The first thing I would say after listening to Kwame’s report is, Charles Darwin comes to mind, the improvement of the species.


MARK SHIELDS: Virginia’s governors have included Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe. And it’s either going to be Terry McAuliffe or Ken Cuccinelli.

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Now, I don’t know if that — Virginia is a fascinating state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean by that?


MARK SHIELDS: I mean it’s not necessarily — when we had a very small pool to draw on, that is white Protestant males who own property, we seem to have been very lucky in our draft choices in the 19th century.


MARK SHIELDS: In the 21st century, with a larger pool — and Terry McAuliffe is a very good party chairman, let me tell you. He was an excellent party chairman.

But the key about Virginia is this. We’re talking about, is it blue, red? In the last two national elections, Judy, Virginia is the only state that has voted exactly the way the nation did. It voted 53 percent to 46 percent for Barack Obama in ’08. It’s voted 51 percent to 47 percent for him in ’12.

Thirteen out of the last 14 prior to that, it had voted Republican. The only time it voted Democrat was for — Democratic was for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, when every place — so it’s been — and it’s a state that had two Republican senators, George Allen and John Warner. Now it has two Democratic senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

It’s become, I think, a bluer state. And Ken Cuccinelli I don’t think is the kind of Republican right now who can win it. And his — Kwame’s point is right. Robert Sarvis, the libertarian, complicates his life. And if, in fact, what happens — and he has to hope — the Cuccinelli folks have to hope that the third party usually does better in the polls than it does on Election Day.

When people say, well, I have got to make a choice between these two leading candidates, he has got to hope that Sarvis voters say, well, Cuccinelli is the best chance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you look for national lessons here?



If Mark’s going with Darwin, I’m going with the suffragette movements.


DAVID BROOKS: Women actually can vote now. It’s been 100 years or so, a little longer.

Women have the vote. And the Republican Party doesn’t seem to be aware of that. If you look at…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Actually, not quite a hundred years, but who’s counting?


DAVID BROOKS: OK. Roughly 100 years.


DAVID BROOKS: Thank you for saving me from 1,000 letters from angry suffragettes all over the country.


MARK SHIELDS: The truth is, it’s 93.

DAVID BROOKS: OK. So, that’s rough.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you. We have got that straight.




So, the fact is that he’s doing terribly among women. And the Republican Party has become more and more a white male party. And this is another sign of that. Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics did a very good analysis of where the vote have moved. His argument is not so much because of the government shutdown. It’s not even changing demographics.

The Republicans have done quite well in the governor’s races not too long ago, but just getting clobbered on gender issues, contraception issues and particularly on stridency. He’s not only taking these positions, which other Republicans have won on. He’s taken them in a very hard-line, strident manner. He’s campaigned in a more strident manner. And it’s just done him a disservice and opened up this gigantic gender gap.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, Stephen Farnsworth, who was interviewed, the political scientist from Mary Washington, in Kwame’s piece, made the point — and he’s absolutely right — it’s been a negative campaign. If there’s a lesson to take, I mean, it’s been not…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You even heard the voters saying that.

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. Not — not this is what we can do together to make a better state, to bring a more just and humane society, or fuller employment or whatever. It’s been, look, you know, I may be no day at the beach, but the other guy, my opponent, is a chronic pain in the neck and lower back region and everything else.

And that’s what it’s been. I mean, it — and it’s hardly been an elevating or edifying campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But isn’t that the way most — I guess, most campaigns are these days? But we won’t — we won’t start grading them on a scale.


DAVID BROOKS: Well, he said Patrick Henry. So, he’s setting the bar kind of high.



So, spying, David, a spate of reports this week about more evidence that the U.S. is doing surveillance on our — not just on our enemies, but on friends and allies, the German chancellor. And, today, the secretary of state, John Kerry, was quoted as saying some of these actions may have reached too far.

What are we to…

DAVID BROOKS: A blindingly good grasp of the obvious.

It started out with the Angela Merkel story. But now it’s spread across to Asia. Asian nations are upset about it. It has spread to the tech firms. They finally realized that this is really a business problem for them if they really — if we look at them as sort of an adjunct to the NSA.

So, I think it’s — I’m supporting some of the mega-data analysis we do of potential terrorist. But to do it to your friends is just a complete destruction of trust, a complete destruction of any international community. It’s completely self-defeating.

We had an op-ed in my newspaper today calling on two things. The president should apologize. I think that’s clearly right. He should just blanket apology to Angela Merkel and others. Secondly, we should have a treaty that we’re not going to do it to other leaders who are basically our close friends and allies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But — and, Mark, the administration is sounding like they’re going to pull back in some ways.

But they also say that they need to do this big sweep just in case there’s something out there that is going to lead them a terrorist.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Well, that’s what Secretary Kerry, who was the most credible figure who wasn’t in any way tainted by this to make this statement — I mean, he acknowledged — David absolutely — makes a good point.

He acknowledged what everybody knows, and that is that it’s gone too far, when it’s reached 34 national leaders. And the fact is, Judy, it’s one thing to spy on Germany. They have been spying apparently on Mrs. Merkel since 2002, so — and — or France or Italy or Spain or Asian countries.

But you don’t mess with Apple and you don’t mess with Google. I mean, those — and they’re upset. And I think they have really put the administration in a defensive — in a defensive position.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does — is it — but is it possible to scale this back without harming national security?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, that’s the argument.

They have lost — on this one, they have lost Dianne Feinstein, the senator — the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who’s been a staunch defender of intelligence. And she feels they have gone too far.

The argument that Secretary Kerry made, we have stopped airliners from being shot down, we have stopped assassinations, buildings from being blown up, and you can’t prove that without compromising your own sources. So, I mean…

DAVID BROOKS: But let’s distinguish between some of the big sweeps done in the Middle East or in Pakistan and in Berlin.

I just think it’s a cost-benefit analysis. It’s a matter of prudence. And we have a national security apparatus which now numbers hundreds of thousands of people with top-secret clearance who just, they do what they can. They do whoever they can. And there’s really not much of a sense of balance and prudence, and the costs to that mentality are now very high. And the transatlantic relationship that is at a low point, even lower now potentially, than after the Iraq war debate, and Asian nations which were upset, deep cost to American alliances.

MARK SHIELDS: It wasn’t an idle concern expressed by the intelligence people when they said to the president he shouldn’t keep his BlackBerry, obviously.



MARK SHIELDS: And he doesn’t know — I’m not sure he knows who was listening in on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, on days when the White House isn’t worrying about the spying issue, they are thinking about what’s going on with the rollout, Mark, of the health care law and the website. And I know we talked about this last week, but this week you had the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, on the Hill, the woman who’s in charge of the Medicare/Medicaid agencies.


JUDY WOODRUFF: They’re accepting responsibility, but the problems just — it just doesn’t seem to go away, not only not go away. It seems to get bigger with more information.

MARK SHIELDS: No. No, it does.

You can say this week that John Kerry and — to some degree, but Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, took one for the team. And full disclosure, I manage Kathleen Sebelius’ father’s campaign, winning campaign for governor of Ohio 43 years ago. And I have known her. So I don’t pretend to total objectivity.

But, I mean, it was refreshing to hear somebody stand up and say, I’m accountable, I’m responsible. I mean, that’s a song you don’t hear very often in Washington: Call me responsible.

But you’re right. The problems continue. They’re compounded and — by the fact that the president’s statement that nobody would have to give up his or her existing insurance, that has been totally contradicted. He was wrong. He was misleading. He was either wrong and ill-informed or he deliberately did it.

And that’s — at a time when you need the president to be the most credible messenger for making the case for people to enroll, to compromise his reputation for candor and honesty is really even further self-inflicted damage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How deep a hole are they in over this…


DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think it’s a hole that is getting deeper.

I mean, the website was the easy thing to do. And they messed that up. The people who are losing — are getting their insurance cancellation, that was a necessity of the law. It’s sort of offensive because they think they have a good insurance plan. The government regulators are saying, sorry, not good enough. Some of them are going to suffer. Some will benefit.

But these are the foothills to what will be a hole set of bigger problems. Because of the problems with the enrollment right now, that increases the likelihood we will have the death spiral, where only sick people sign up, the healthy don’t sign up, and that — you just can’t run a system like that.

Then there are further problems, complexities down the road of the — how the subsidy — subsidy mechanism works. That’s a very complicated mechanism. Basically, you’re reorganizing 70 percent of the U.S. economy, and you’re handing a lot of…

MARK SHIELDS: Seventeen.

DAVID BROOKS: Seventeen.

MARK SHIELDS: Seventeen, yes.

DAVID BROOKS: Handing it to a lot of people who can’t run a website, and so there’s bound to be unintended consequences.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a lot of these early folks are signing up for Medicaid…



JUDY WOODRUFF: … which doesn’t put money into the — into the health care…


MARK SHIELDS: No. It’s certainly not what the insurance companies were looking for. They wanted — they wanted the young healthy people to sign up.

I — death spiral, I think — I think, David, is a bridge too far. I think it’s a problem. They — they better have all of these problems ironed out by the end of November as far as the website is concerned, or else the hole just does get truly…

DAVID BROOKS: I was just saying that as a short-term for the adverse selection problem, where only sick people sign up and the healthy people…


JUDY WOODRUFF: You know, this — a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about the problems Republicans were having coming off of the government shutdown and how they were having to do all this chest-beating worrying about where they were headed.

Now it’s the administration worried. You have got Democrats worried about what the president, what the — what — what’s going happen to health — the health care law. A new poll came out, NBC/The Wall Street Journal, just yesterday, lowest ratings ever, not just for Republicans, but the president.

I mean, and then the view, David and Mark, of Washington is as low as it’s ever been. Is this something — I mean, if you work in Washington, do you just despair at this point?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there’s a despair in the country, Judy, about democracy and about our ability to compromise.

I mean, that’s what comes through in that Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. And Peter Hart, who conducted it with Bill McInturff, have said — I mean, people are just saying, what is wrong with you? Why can’t you work together?

I mean, you’re right. The Republicans paid dearly for the government shutdown, but the Democrats — it’s like a seesaw where they’re both down. I mean, the Democrats aren’t up because the Republicans are down. The Democrats are down. And every time there’s an erosion, further erosion of confidence in Washington, in the public sector, the worse it is for Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a few seconds, David.


JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, this is — this is — I mean, this is something that could last.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, although Lenin, my great hero — no — said…



MARK SHIELDS: John Lennon.


DAVID BROOKS: No, Vladimir.

The worse, the better. So, if we get a completely dysfunctional system, we have been on this slope for a long time, maybe there will be some reform. It’s just up to people to actually do the reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we thank you both. On that note, we say good night to both of you.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.